Category Archives: game previews

Game Preview: Raiders at Rams

After finally winning for the first time in an entire calendar year — against a very good team, at that — the Nation is ecstatic but cautious. Obviously it’s way too soon to tell if the Raiders are over the proverbial hump yet, but Sunday’s road game in St. Louis will provide more evidence of whether the Raiders are starting to get it together or not. The Rams may be the best 4-7 team in the league, as far as doing more with less is concerned.

Despite having to use their backup quarterbacks all season, and having a weak running game and no real #1 WR (sound familiar?), the Rams have managed to beat Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco in the last six weeks, and should have won on the road in San Diego last week. This is mostly due to a solid defense and some novel special teams plays. Jeff Fisher has shown a great sense of timing and a lot of guts in calling some of these plays, giving his team a sense of urgency and a willingness to play like they have nothing to lose.

Yes, the Rams are very much the Raiders’ doppelganger in the NFC — a team in the process of rebuilding, whose fortunes are at least in part driven by the fact that they’re in a tough division with three significantly better teams. Two significant differences:  on offense, Kenny Britt has emerged in recent weeks as the Rams’ go-to receiver, with 280 yards and 2 touchdowns over the last 5 games; on defense, while they only have 7 team interceptions, both of Janoris Jenkins’ INTs have been pick-sixes.

But the Rams are vulnerable, and four of their losses (including two at home) have been by at least 14 points. Oakland’s pass rush and coverage have improved the last several games, and if they can maintain that against a beleaguered Rams o-line that has given up 34 sacks, and get Latavius Murray and Marcel Reece rolling the running game again, they have a pretty solid chance in this one.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Chiefs

At 0-10, coming into a Thursday night matchup against a red-hot division opponent (the Chefs have won 7 of their last 8 games), there’s no mystery as to what the Raiders need to do, if they stand a chance at winning this one:  find the running game, and contain Jamaal Charles. We all remember what Charles did in Oakland last year, romping for 5 TDs in a 56-31 blowout, mostly on the strength of a single screen play that Kansas City ran repeatedly, defying the Raiders’ defense to stop them.

The rainy weather will work to the Raiders’ advantage, in at least keeping the point count down, but KC’s D is tight. Two interesting stats regarding the Chefs:

  1. While they are ranked 25th in yards allowed, Kansas City’s defense has not given up a rushing TD since Week 16 of last season. Only a handful of teams have had a longer streak.
  2. Alex Smith has not had a single TD pass to a wide receiver this season.

Look for one of these two records to break tonight. Chances are it will be the latter, but as always, if Oakland can put the two-yards-up-the-middle-and-a-cloud-of-derp rushing attack of McFadden and Jones-Drew on pause for a few drives, and see what Latavius Murray has to offer, it might be that first statistic that falls. Murray’s two consecutive late runs against the Chargers electrified the offense, however briefly, and Murray’s 23-yard gallop was, sadly, Oakland’s longest carry of the season by a running back so far.

Continuing credit has to go to Jason Tarver’s improving defense, which has shed its 3rd-down conversion problems, and has had elite division opponent quarterbacks guessing and on the run. Alex Smith has had something of a career resurgence since going to Kansas City, but is still inferior in talent to Manning and Rivers. If the Raiders’ D can get to those two, they should be able to get to Smith.

Most of the Thursday night games this season, all of which have been divisional matchups, have been blowouts. The spread on this game is 7 points, and between the weather and the Chiefs possibly looking ahead to their next game against the Broncos, I would actually put money on Oakland at least beating the spread. It’s probably too much to hope for a win, but that’s really why we keep tuning in to watch, right?

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Broncos

Despite a decent performance in Seattle last week, you have to be pretty pessimistic about the Raiders’ prospects in this matchup. Denver got lit up in New England last week, 43-21, and Peyton Manning and company are no doubt itching to take out some frustration on a weak mark. They’re loaded with talent on offense and defense, and the Raiders simply aren’t. So it’s as simple as a weather prediction — the forecast calls for pain.

Every game is still theoretically winnable, and this is no exception. But the keys here are what they have been all season — create turnovers, tighten up defense (especially run defense), and above all get a running game going. With healthy defensive playmakers like Von Miller and Demarcus Ware facing them down, the offensive line will have their hands full keeping Carr upright and helping the running backs get anything going against the league’s top-ranked rushing defense.

So the Raiders can win this; as the Patriots (who barely beat the Raiders in Week 3, 16-9) showed last week, the mighty Manning machine can be beaten. Unfortunately, Derek Carr is not Tom Brady (not yet!), and the team does not play the flawless, disciplined ball that Bill Belichick’s team plays. If the Raiders can stop with the dumb mistakes and penalties, the reckless turnovers, and maybe create a few turnovers of their own and really capitalize on them, they have a chance of being in this one. But if they play the way they have been all season, it’s going to be ugly.


Game Preview: Raiders at Seahawks

Even though the Seahawks are the reigning champs, and their stadium is one of the toughest places in the league to play, every game is winnable. And the Seahawks are nowhere near as dominant as they were last season; in the last few weeks, they were upset by the hapless Rams, and barely beat the Panthers. While they are keeping details on the Percy Harvin trade quiet, the fact that they essentially dumped their most explosive receiver hints at least some possible locker room issues.

Perhaps more importantly, and what really gives the Raiders an outside shot at this game, is that Seattle is really banged up. Key starters such as Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, and Zach Miller are out for this game. Of course, their backups are still probably better than most of the Raiders’ starters, but still. The likelihood of rain may also help to keep it close.

The professional prognosticators are expecting a blowout, of course, but there’s a good possibility that the Raiders can stay in this. They probably won’t win, but as long as they show up and play hard, they shouldn’t get embarrassed either.

Keys to Victory

Run defense.  Oakland’s run D did a fantastic job last week, shutting down Cleveland’s 6th-ranked running game and forcing Brian Hoyer to throw more. Marshawn Lynch will be much tougher to bring down regularly, but if they can at least contain him, Russell Wilson will be forced to throw more often than he would like.

Create turnovers.  For as much extra time as the defense has spent on the field in almost every game this season, they have generated precious few turnovers, coming into this game at -7. Cleveland won last week mostly because of two fumbles, one a drive-killer by McFadden, and later by Carr deep in his own territory, setting up an easy score to seal the game for the Browns. Obviously turnovers are crucial to winning any matchup, but against an elite team like Seattle, they’re an absolute must.

Eliminate dumb mistakes.  Drive-killing penalties; turnovers caused by poor throws, poor routes, and poor ball security; and a failure to generate a poor run game. All of those things, in addition to the inexplicable lack of impact talent, are driving the team’s chances into the ground, game after game. Every week, the coaches and players talk about the Raiders beating themselves; they need to actually do something about it.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Chargers

After losing their opening game by a single point, the Chargers have won four straight games, making them everyone’s boutique pick. Chances are they will continue that streak in Oakland, but it should still be noted that San Diego has beaten only one team with a winning record (Seattle), and while their last two victories were blowouts, both games were home stands against crummy East Coast teams (Jaguars and Jets). Those last two wins were by a combined point total of 64-14, which undoubtedly helps the Chargers’ scary defensive rankings (#1 in points allowed, #2 in passing yards allowed).

If there’s one thing the NFL proves week after week after week, it’s that every game is winnable, and every team is beatable. San Diego certainly has the advantage in talent and coaching here, but this game is an opportunity for the Raiders to show whether their woes are more related to talent or coaching. (The reasonable assumption is that it’s a good measure of both.)

One thing Raider Nation seems to agree on is that Reggie McKenzie is much more to blame for the current state of the team than Dennis Allen was; after all, Allen was simply doing what he could with the roster he’d been given. But I think this game will also show Tony Sparano to be the type of coach that Dennis Allen simply wasn’t — and more importantly, the type of coach this team needs right now. In the face of successive blowouts, Allen’s cool, professional sideline demeanor came across more and more as simply passive, accepting of mediocrity and failure. Sparano is more of the in-your-face type that will light a fire under the team and hold underperformers accountable.

The Raiders have lost their last ten games by an average margin of 13.1 points, and the first four games of this season by an average of 13 points. I’m not much for making predictions, but this is the type of game that the Raiders tend to win, or at least play more competitively. I think they probably lose by a field goal or a touchdown, no more than that, and that the coaching change at least starts somewhat more positively.

Keys to Victory


Same as it ever was — this team will stand or fall by how well they establish the run game. McFadden has been running hard, but mostly into brick walls. Greg Olson has to get him out on the edge in space, where he’s at his best. Jones-Drew has to be a part of the game, and run with the same urgency that McFadden has been. Latavius Murray has not been used much at all, largely due to the offense’s inability to stay on the field.

More balance in the passing offense. While the short game keeps Carr upright and plays things safe, it also allows defenses to stack more in the box and shut down the run, and hold the passing game to short gains. More medium and long-range passes will keep opponents honest.

Third down conversions. The Raiders’ offense is second-worst in the league, with only a 33% conversion rate. Getting the running game going, and cutting back on the dropped passes, will go a long way towards fixing this.


Stop the run. The defense has surrendered an average of 158.2 yards per game in the first four games, easily the worst in the league. Branden Oliver ran for 114 yards last week against the Jets’ 8th-ranked run defense, more than 20 yards over their per-game average. The Raiders need to shut down Oliver early and often to keep this close.

The Rivers-Gates connection. Now in their 12th season together, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have been a potent combination, and an ongoing source of frustration for the Raiders over those years. Gates has career totals of 92 TDs and nearly 9,500 yards, many of them against Oakland. In five games this season, Gates already has five touchdowns. The Raiders secondary, having already made second-tier QBs such as Ryan Tannehill and Geno Smith look elite, will have their hands full.

Third down conversions. Obviously, this is a sore spot on both sides of the ball, as the defense is tied for worst at allowing opponents to convert at a 50% rate. Many of these have been on 3rd & 10+ yards. Again, with the secondary and linebacker corps depleted, line pressure is critical to staying in this game.